Cheap oil for cheap slaves?

Saudi Arabia has long been known as one of the world richest countries due to its vast oil reserves. According to the US State Department the Middle East “constitute(s) a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The Saudi Kingdom has utilised its vast oil wealth to make trade and bilateral-relations with its neighbours and partners.  It has also become a country with a large amount of migrants where ten million (1/3) are foreigners.

Proposed agreement with Kenya.

Although Kenya is not in the Middle East (over 6,500 km away) it has a become a trading partner on good relations with Saudi Arabia. However, in recent times the Kenyan Government has come under more pressure as a direct implication of one proposed bilateral agreement.

Kenya is devising a plan with Saudi Arabia where they will make 100,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers available to go and work there in exchange for cheaper oil. The president spokesperson stated “This is about continued engagement with a key Middle East country in securing opportunities for Kenyans.”

Worryingly though, for many years, Saudi Arabia has been a destination for a large number of female Kenyans attracted by the dream of a great job and lifestyle in another prosperous country. But in the not so distant past Kenyan domestic workers have gone missing in Saudi Arabia which is of great concern considering the proposed deal.

Human Rights

Saudi Arabia’s restrictive kafala (visa-sponsorship) system, which ties migrant workers’ legal residency to their employers, grants employers’ excessive power over workers and facilitates abuse.

Saudi Arabia is well known as a nation with a poor record on human rights. Even though the Saudi Government created 38 amendments to the Labor Law which went into effect in 2015, domestic workers – mostly migrant women who work in family homes, are still excluded from such enforcement (Human Rights Watch). Currently there is approximately 85,000 and 100,000 Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia. 70 per cent of these are domestic workers meaning they are not protected by the new labor laws. The lure of a new and prosperous life can still be more appealing to many Kenyans even though they will have few rights while they are working there.

Genuine action needs to be taken by the Saudi Government to protect migrants who come and contribute to its economy. The same can be said for the Kenyan Government as it will happily send migrant workers in the 1000’s if the price of crude remains low. If the Kenyan anti-trafficking law (set up in 2010) is anything to go by, migrants protection will remain bleak both home an abroad for the coming years. Failure to prosecute the traffickers has disappointed many who were originally pleased with the implementation of the law. To be taken more seriously the Kenyan Government must act more in the interests of its citizens and less in the interest of its economy.





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